In Europe, the Roma people live as outsiders in most countries. Colin Lowther and Liz Waid look at the difficult history, and hopeful future of the Roma people.
Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.
And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
People are at a restaurant in the city of Maribor in Slovenia. They eat spicy meat and vegetables cooked over a fire. Other people eat bread with thick beef and vegetable stew. The restaurant is named Romani Kafenava. The food served there is traditional food of the Roma people. Twelve thousand people live in the city of Maribor. Three thousand of them are ethnically Romani or Roma. But it is not common to find a Roma restaurant. Today’s Spotlight is on the Roma people. We look at their difficult history and their hopes for the future.
There are about 12 million Roma people around the world. People also sometimes call members of this ethnic group travellers or gypsies. They were originally from South Asia. Today most Roma live in Eastern and Central Europe. However, the name ‘Roma’ includes many different kinds of people, depending on where they live. The Roma people even speak many different languages. They have different religions and customs. But all Roma do have some things in common.
Historically, people have not accepted the Roma as a part of society. Zeljco Jovanovic is the director of the Open Society Roma Initiatives based in Eastern Europe. He explains the historical situation of the Roma people in a video:
“We are from India. We came 10 centuries ago. We are true Europeans. But today Roma settlements are usually outside the settled cities and towns. They do not have all the public services like other citizens. The struggle of the Roma is the struggle for justice.”
For centuries, the Roma have travelled from place to place. They did not settle in one area. They lived among other people groups. But they did not usually fit in to other peoples’ established way of life. They often live in camps that are poor and not permanent. As a result, other people have not treated them well. The Roma are often not welcome in community schools and work places. In some countries people made the Roma into slaves. Other people mistreated and even killed them.
Today, the Roma are still often kept out of the rest of society because of their ethnic background. They often do not have good housing, health services or education for their children. Part of the problem is negative and false ideas about the Roma. Some people think that the only good part of Roma culture is their music and dancing. Some people think that all Roma are thieves. Isabel Fonesca lived with the Roma and wrote a book about them. On the radio show ‘Here and Now’ she talked about how people see the Roma as criminals:
“I do not want to ignore the issue of criminality. But I would like to explain how we can understand it. You must look at the high level of discrimination against Roma in Europe and the degree of poverty. These are people living in Europe in dirt and small temporary houses. Some Roma do break the law. It is not at all surprising. These are people who are unemployable. Not just unemployed, but no one will hire them.”
Djevrija Mazrek is a Roma woman who lives in Slovenia. She could not find a job for 20 years. She has 3 children and 9 grandchildren. And her husband is also unemployed. But Mazrek got a job as a cook at Romani Kafenava. This Roma restaurant employs Roma people who cannot get other work. The restaurant is providing hope and change in Mazrek’s life. But it also has an effect on the rest of the community. By serving traditional Romani food, it gives Roma traditions respect. It shows that the Roma culture is valuable. Simon Simoncic is the restaurant’s project manager. He told the news organization NPR:
"Slovenians have a lot of false beliefs about Roma community. Roma culture is different from us. Some of their habits we cannot understand. But having to live together is a fact nowadays. So Romani Kafenava is one way to break those false beliefs."
Changing the way people think about food seems like a small change. But there are also hopeful changes for the Roma on a large governmental level. In 2013, the European Union or EU accepted a recommendation to include the Roma people. This encourages governments to integrate and include the Roma people who live in their countries. László Andor is the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. In a statement for the EU he said:
"This shows that the members of EU are committed to improving the living conditions of Roma people across Europe. We cannot let them down. Now is the time for Member States to give enough EU funding, together with national money, to help Roma communities. This will help the Roma to make possible all that they are able to do."
Changing government laws or giving money to organizations does not always have a big effect. But there are other things that can change. In order for people’s lives to improve, the Roma themselves must be involved. People can work to change false ideas about the Roma people. Everyone can find ways to live together - even if they have different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. And Roma people themselves must also work together. Anna Mirga works for the Open Society Roma Initiatives in Poland. She says that change must also come from the Roma:
“I think now the Roma organizations must become something more. They need a space where the Roma can come together. There, they can do a little bit of networking among each other. And they need a place where they can gain hope. Then they can see that when they work together and when they unite they can make something happen.”
Though the Roma have a very difficult history, there is still hope. Many people think that they have found a good answer to this problem. They think the solution is education. Listen for another Spotlight program about the good effect that education is having for Roma people in Europe.
The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Hope for the Roma People.’
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